The plane landed, and we emerged. By this point we were exhausted and the only thing keeping us going was the fact that we had been looking forward to this moment for most of the year. We had arrived in London, 7.30 am local time. After almost 12 months of planning, we were finally here. The first thing we did after we had passed through customs was vital to our survival; we bought coffee. We didn’t care that the conversion rate meant that our £4 coffees equated to over $8 Australian dollars, all we cared about was the caffeine.
As we sat and slurped on our beverages, we found it amusing that the kindly-sounding woman on the intercom said, “any bags left unattended will be removed… and destroyed,” in such a peaceful, matter-of-fact tone of voice. Nonetheless, we kept our bags close to us and kept a watchful eye out for any suspicious-looking security guards attempting to annihilate our luggage.
In my previous blog-post, I mentioned in my top ten tips for surviving long flights that it is essential to bring spare clothes. This will save you from doing what I did at Heathrow Airport; throwing my suitcase down on the ground and ruffling through the whole thing just to find my toothbrush, and some clean underwear and socks. We had the whole day ahead of us before we could check in to our hotel so there was no opportunity for a shower. Sadface.
Something befitting my awesome, independent-traveller nature occurred when I went to the bathroom to change my underwear. I sat down on the loo, perched my toothbrush precariously on the toilet-roll holder, and took off my big chunky winter boots so I could get my jeans and undies off. I put on my fresh socks (what a relief), pulled my jeans up, did my shoes back up, and was ready to go before I realised that I had forgotten to put new undies on! Frustrated, I sat back down, took EVERYTHING back off so I could put on my underwear. Finally ready to go, I somehow knocked my toothbrush onto the floor (ew) and it fell out of it’s plastic case (even bigger ew). Then, a toddler in the cubicle next to me attempted to steal it, not that I really wanted it so much anymore anyway.
After all my shenanigans in the bathroom, we eventually managed to leave the airport. It’s super easy to get to the underground from the airport and we were on our way to Tower Hill station in no time.
Most hotels or hostels will let you drop your bags off before check-in time, so you don’t have to cart them around all day with you before you are able to get into your room. We stayed at Wombats Hostel which is very conveniently located in easy walking distance from the tube station, and were pleasantly greeted with cute fairy-lights and a very indie vibe. We were able to drop our bags in a secure room and then hit up the streets of London!
We took the short walk down towards the Tower of London which has been around since 1066 thanks to William the Conqueror. Today we weren’t here for the Tower, we were waiting to catch the Hop On Hop Off Bus – which we pre-booked online before we came. The HoHo bus basically takes you everywhere you want to go on a pre-destined route where you can get on or off wherever you like. Seeing as we went in winter we had the added bonus of paying for one day but getting two days worth of bussing around.
So we clambered aboard the double decker bus. Even though it was freezing cold we decided to sit on top in the open air to get the best possible view. Shortly after making this decision we were frozen numb but happy with ourselves and our vantage point. We took the ‘yellow’ bus route (the different buses have colour codes and the yellow one offers live commentary in English) and had a great tour guide who was both funny and informative.
The moment the bus took off we forgot how exhausted we were. Suddenly, we didn’t feel like sitting back and closing our eyes; we were craning our necks, cameras at the ready, taking in everything that we could see. The HoHo bus took us around to all of the main sights; St Pauls Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Parliament House, along and across the Thames, beneath the London Eye, to Hyde Park and to Buckingham Palace. Because it was December when we arrived, Christmas lights were up in the city (see the gorgeous snowflake lights strung up along Piccadilly Circus in the pictures below) and the city seemed magical.
London is, in short, amazing. I’d recommend the HoHo Bus tours to anyone who is new to the city and who wants to see as much as possible in a short amount of time – the buses make it super easy to visit the main sights and really help you to get your bearings in the city. We did two loops of the yellow line before we decided it was time to go and get some sleep so we could make the most of our second day.
Seeing as we were so exhausted, I didn’t imagine I would wake up at 4.00 am thinking that it was 2.00 pm… and not be able to get back to sleep, but it turns out that jet lag takes its toll no matter how tired you are and no matter how much you tried to sleep on the plane. We got up early and went to Sainsbury’s, the local supermarket. When we walked in we were greeted by the wafting smells of freshly baked croissants and other delicious baked goods. Figuring that eating croissants was as good a way as any to start a 52-day holiday, we grabbed our breakfasts and hit the streets.
“Do Londoners drive on the same side of the road as Australians?” we questioned as we attempted to cross busy streets. It turns out that Londoners do in-fact drive on the same side of the road as Australians, so for now we were safe from the craziness of having to look left and then right instead of right and then left (I think, now I’ve just completely confused myself about which way I actually look first when I cross the road).
We decided to jump off the bus at Trafalgar Square. We were lucky enough to have a sunny winters day and the buildings in the square were lit up with a golden morning glow. The sky was bright blue and the atmosphere was incredible. Children were running around, clambering up onto the lion statues, and their families were waving selfie sticks around and frantically trying to organise the perfect family holiday photo. Nelson’s Column loomed up high above us, and we could see Big Ben standing proud in the background. The fountain caught the sunlight as the water sprayed about. We kept looking at each other and saying, “I can’t believe we’re actually here!”
We wandered around the Square for a bit before heading inside the National Gallery. Now, Katie and I aren’t art students but we could definitely appreciate the incredible artwork on display in here (especially seeing as the gallery is free to visit!). My favourite was the Van Gogh display. This is possibly because he is one of the few artists who I am actually aware of, but also possibly because he painted my favourite flowers; sunflowers.
Cheers Van Gogh, for painting the best kind of flowers out there. Incidentally, the sunflowers painting is one of the most popular paintings in the National Gallery – which I discovered when I entered the gift shop and found the painting reproduced on tea towels, note pads, stationery sets, pop-up canvas sets, mugs and all manner of souvenirs. I ended up settling with a wooden postcard of the painting, which is now proudly seated on top of my radio on my desk at home.
Onwards then, we decided it was time to suss out the Queen’s humble abode; Buckingham Palace. We began the journey passing beneath Admiralty Arch which lead on to the street known as The Mall – taking us directly to the palace. Even though it was winter, the street was packed, with locals and tourists alike. We were lucky enough to see a group of guards riding horses down the street, in their red coats and golden pointy hats (the guards that is, not the horses). We walked, or rather, we half-skipped because-we-are-so-excited-to-be-in-London down The Mall and to the Victoria Memorial and the Palace. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the Queen. She had to cancel the tea and scone date that she had arranged with us, as she had an urgent matter crop up. It was a shame, for sure, but we were happy to settle for standing outside and looking up at her palace in awe with the rest of the tourists. Plus, a nice couple took a polaroid for us so that was an added bonus.
Unfortunately, the Changing of the Guard occurs on limited days during winter and we were not able to see it. After a wander around the palace we decided to head over to Hyde Park for a nice stroll. What we were to discover was even better than we expected.
The Winter Wonderland, an annual gathering of winter markets, fairground rides, ice-skating and a.m.a.z.i.n.g food, was in full swing in the middle of Hyde Park when we arrived. The festivities are free to enter and were such an amazing find. We wandered around, checking out the cute little markets and old-fashioned food stalls. We decided no trip to a theme park was complete without a ride on the high-chairs, and what an amazing way to see London in all it’s glory! These were the tallest high-chairs I have ever seen and we had a spectacular view of the city sprawling beneath us while we zoomed around in circles up in the open winter air.
After all the excitement up in the air we decided that some healthy chocolate-covered strawberry crepes for lunch would make an excellent addition to our healthy croissant breakfast. And we were right, maybe not about the ‘health’ aspect, but definitely about the ‘excellent addition’ aspect. We sat on a park bench and watched families go by on horseback, watched children chasing seagulls, and one old guy who was picking up rubbish who we had a nice chat with. We even saw a squirrel, which we don’t see in Australia, so that was cute.
With our HoHo bus tickets we also had a free river cruise along the Thames available to us, so we picked ourselves up off our park bench and headed over towards Westminster Millennium Pier. The cruise took us along the river, beneath the London Eye and back towards the Tower of London… and our hostel. We decided to have another early night as our Topdeck Tour was leaving bright and early the next morning.
We had two amazing days in London and were looking forward to revisiting for a few days between our first and second Topdeck Tour. For more on the places we went to, check out our Itinerary where I will be linking my posts as I write them. Thanks for reading 🙂
Feel Free to Join the Discussion…
Have you been to London or are hoping to go sometime? What were your favourite sights / what would you most like to see?